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Denebola » Ben Tolkin http://www.denebolaonline.net The Award-Winning, Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School, Newton, MA Fri, 17 Jun 2011 02:00:19 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.2 Wikileaks: Heroism http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/12/06/wikileaks-heroism/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/12/06/wikileaks-heroism/#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 06:35:19 +0000 Ben Tolkin http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=5168 WikiLeaks has made international headlines again, with its most recent release of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables.
Cyber attacks have taken down most WikiLeaks websites. Counter attacks by internet protestors are taking down Amazon and Mastercard. WikiLeaks’s Bond villain-esque editor, Julian Assange, was recently arrested in Britain for sex crimes. Anarchists are cackling in the street as the established global order is torn apart.
Well, not that last one. But from much of the rhetoric tossed about in the last few weeks from politicians like Mike Huckabee, who urged for Assange’s execution, you’d think WikiLeaks was bent on destroying the US government. But if we look past the reactions and to the facts, it becomes clear that WikiLeaks’ effect on the United States is positive, both to our democracy and to our safety.
The first thing to get out of the way is that the documents released usually tended to confirm what those paying attention already suspected. Media figures who express shock that Saudi Arabia would urge the US to attack Iran evidently haven’t been paying attention for the last 30 years.
We supported dictatorships in Central Asia to help us in the War in Afghanistan!? Wow! We haven’t done something that crazy since we supported dictatorships in Southeast Asia and Korea and South America and Indonesia and the Middle East!
The only thing surprising about, say, news that Hilary Clinton ordered spying missions on key UN leaders is that we weren’t running missions earlier. We have a whole agency devoted to espionage; I assume their budget is going somewhere. Every world leader knows exactly how diplomacy is conducted.
It’s messy and complicated and a lot of the time, the US ends up spying on people or intimidating governments or getting friendly with dictators. To paraphrase Defense Secretary Robert Gates, other nations don’t deal with the United States because they like or trust us.
They deal with us because at best, they respect us, and at worst, they fear us. These documents are embarrassing, but hardly surprising.
That said, the release of these documents is hardly irrelevant. We live in a democracy, and as Thomas Jefferson said, information is the currency of democracy.
It is precisely the messy, complicated nature of diplomacy that is so infrequently communicated to the average American voter. If only WikiLeaks had existed in 2003! When Bush, Rumsfeld, and Powell were explaining how certain they were that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, imagine if we’d seen the actual intelligence they were basing that on!
Knowing that, for example, Turkish authorities allowed weapons to be smuggled to al Qaeda strikes me as relevant to the American people. The better informed we are about both what is happening around the world and what our government is doing, the better our democracy can function.
But there’s another positive benefit of WikiLeaks that is often overlooked. WikiLeaks is not a spying or intelligence-gathering organization, it is a publishing organization. It is a way for leaked documents to be published anonymously.
So who does the leaking? Just about anybody. “Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time, Robert Gates said.
Many recently leaked documents have been traced back to Private First Class Bradley Manning, a low-level intelligence officer who was fed up with the need to conceal his sexual orientation under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and covertly copied upwards of 90,000 documents onto blank CDs of Lady Gaga music (evidently listening to Gaga does not count as “telling).
The arrest of the mysterious, outspoken, and strangely attractive Julian Assange will not only do nothing to stop WikiLeaks; stopping WikiLeaks would do nothing to stop leaking of documents. One of the more controversial releases was a list of areas considered by the United States as vulnerable to a devastating terrorist attack.
But envision a world without WikiLeaks releasing documents in bundles for the world to see. Any disgruntled officer could still leak the document, and just pass it covertly to an unknown power, without the knowledge of the US government.
The only thing worse than having your documents released publicly is having them released privately. What WikiLeaks shows the government is that it can not rely on secrecy to protect the American people.
Documents get leaked. The best policy is honesty, transparency, and tangible actions to make America safe.

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Icelandic volcano paralyzes air traffic http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/icelandic-volcano-paralyzes-air-traffic/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/05/21/icelandic-volcano-paralyzes-air-traffic/#comments Fri, 21 May 2010 04:00:57 +0000 Ben Tolkin http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4331 The volcanic eruption on April 14 has once again proven that despite all of humanity’s advances, we can still be crippled by something most of us can’t pronounce.  The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kul, by the way) blanketed Europe in ash and caused a near-total airspace lockdown for almost a week, the worst collapse of civil air travel since World War II.

The crisis canceled a total of about 100,000 flights into and out of Europe, 29 percent of the world’s air travel. In today’s globalized world, a crisis on one continent has impacts everywhere.

These shutdowns cost $250 million to the city of New York alone.  Uncountable millions of travelers were affected, and even now that most airports have reopened, thousands of Europeans remain stranded all over the world. Furthermore, the eruption occurred soon after the death of the president of Poland, causing numerous world leaders to cancel plans to attend his funeral, including president Obama.  It could be worse: also briefly stranded in New York was the prime minister of Norway, who had to govern his nation on his new iPad.

The eruption was also disastrous for the world’s airlines, costing them a total of 1.7 billion dollars in what was already expected to be a difficult year.

Many are asking for bailouts from European governments, similar to the $5 billion the United States gave out following the much smaller three-day lockdown after September 11.

Eyjafjallajökull is not an especially large or powerful volcano. The disaster was caused by a number of unlucky coincidences. The volcano is located under a glacier, so lava from the eruption didn’t just roll down the mountainside; it instantly and explosively turned the ice into steam, which pulverized the lava into tiny particles of ash and shot them 6.8 miles into the atmosphere.  Indeed, damage to Iceland itself was minimal.

Even this much ash would not have caused a disaster if a rainstorm had knocked it out of the atmosphere, but this season was unusually dry in the North Sea.  Worst of all, the unpredictable North Atlantic jet stream suddenly switched directions.

Having blown west into the ocean all winter, after the eruption it began blowing the cloud of ash to the southeast, directly into Europe.

Volcanic ash can be melted down by the heat of jet engines, and fuse into a glassy mass, causing multiple engine failure.  However, most European governments have determined that by this point in time, the ash cloud has dispersed enough to allow regular travel again.

However, we may not be out of trouble yet. Though Eyjafjallajökull is producing less ash, the eruption is showing no signs of stopping.  And, perhaps the greater danger is Eyjafjallajökull’s neighbor, Katla, a volcano ten times stronger, buried under twice as much ice.

Every time in recorded history that Eyjafjallajökull has erupted, Katla has soon followed. If Katla erupts, the current crisis, according to Iceland’s president Olafur Grimsson, will resemble “a small rehearsal.

But don’t worry. Scientists haven’t detected any activity at Katla- yet.

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